When Your Way Gets Dark


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Uses rhetorical and literary theory to recover the power of the blues in its cultural tradition. Describes effective strategies for teaching the blues to students.



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Published 01 January 2005
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EAN13 9781932559408
Language English
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InWHEN YOU WĀ GES DĀK: A RHEOIÇ OF HE BLUES, Jeffrey Carroll presents a cluster of rhetorical and literary theories that illuminate the blues’ place in our social, political, and cultural traditions. Drawing from his 35 years of blues encounters, Carroll also analyzes performers and nine historic blues performances— including the blues of Charlie Patton, Skip James, Memphis Minnie, Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and others—as well as their own accounts of performances, to understand, paraphrasing Dylan omas, the force through which the blue fuse drives the music.When Your Way Gets Darkuncovers the rhetorical positions of the most significant writing and writers on the blues—Samuel Charters, Paul Oliver, Robert Palmer, William Ferris, David Evans, LeRoi Jones, Ralph Ellison, Larry Neal, Albert Murray—and seeks to find rhetorics there that may resolve or exacerbate the question of race, the blues, and audience. InWhen Your Way Gets Dark, Carroll also shows how teachers and students can—by reinventing its contexts, sound, and effects—recover the rhetorical power of the blues. WÉ YÔÛ WĀ GÉŚ DĀ presents a sustained look at how African-American art and performance has extended and shaped the American aesthetic and cultural landscape. Carroll shows that the blues are a legiti-mate art-form for sustained study, academic and otherwise; in so doing, he stretches our conceptions of what constitutes a text . . . and how we can explore text as performance in terms of theory, interpretation, and pedagogy—without reducing the blues to being only a literary object. . . . Carroll writes about the blues with grace, style, and insight. —omas Rickert, Purdue University JÉÉ CĀÔis Professor of English and Director of the Graduate Program in English at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa, where he teaches courses on the blues, rhetoric and composition, and the American novel. He is the author of two textbooks,Dialogs: Reading and Writing in the Disciplines ande Active Reader(with Anne Ruggles Gere), as well as a novel,Climbing to the Sun.
Cover photograph:B.B. King © 2003 by Dick Waterman. Parlor Press 816 Robinson Street West Lafayette, IN 47906 w w w.pa rlorpress.com S A N: 2 5 4 - 8 8 7 9 ISBN 1-932559-40-X
Parlor Press
When Your Way Gets Dark
When Your Way Gets Dark
A Rhetoric of the Blues
Jeffrey Carroll
Parlor Press West Lafayette, Indiana www.parlorpress.com
Parlor Press LLC, West Lafayette, Indiana 47906
© 2005 by Parlor Press All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America
S A N: 2 5 4 - 8 8 7 9
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Carroll, Jeffrey, 1950- When your way gets dark : a rhetoric of the blues / Jeffrey Carroll.  p. cm.  Includes bibliographical references and index.  ISBN 1-932559-38-8 (pbk. : alk. paper) -- ISBN 1-932559-39-6 (hard-cover : alk. paper) -- ISBN 1-932559-40-X (Adobe ebook) 1. Blues (Music)--History and criticism. I. Title.
 ML3521.C37 2005  781.643--dc22  2004030507
Paperback and cloth versision are printed on acid-free paper. Cover photograph:© 2003 by Dick Waterman. FromBetween Midnight and Day: The Last Unpublished Blues Archive, Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2003. Used by permission.
Parlor Press, LLC is an independent publisher of scholarly and trade titles in print and multimedia formats. This book is also available in paperback and cloth formats from Parlor Press on the WWW at http://www.parlorpress.com. For submission information or to find out about Parlor Press publications, write to Parlor Press, 816 Robinson St., West Lafayette, Indiana, 47906, or e-mail editor@parlorpress.com.
To Ruth
Acknowledgmentsix Introduction: Working (into) the Bluesxi
1  Writing (on) the Blues3 2  Reading (for) the Blues36 3  Cooking (with) the Blues71 Nine Performances of the Blues73 Charlie Patton73 Skip James80 Memphis Minnie87 Little Walter94 Jimi Hendrix102 J.B. Lenoir109 B.B. King116 Muddy Waters123 Eric Clapton130 4  Teaching (by) the Blues137
Works Cited167 Index173
My parents, Glenn Arthur Carroll and Doris Alva Carroll, helped me love music; I honor their role first in this modest project of mine. My brothers and sisters, all five of them (Audrey, David, Alan, Robyn and Holly), are themselves music-lovers, and I, being the youngest, fell luckily under their influence and the sounds that issued from their rooms and cars and stages; I thank them for such a rich education. My friends have always kept the blues pot boiling, too; I mention Gary Ashbrook especially for his love of the roots music that is so important to the life of America. My colleagues at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa have always supported me and my varied research projects; for this book I especially want to thank Glenn Man and Cristina Bacchilega, department chairs whose unfailing commitment to faculty research swept me up and helped me complete my work. Susan Schultz read an early draft of this book; her comments were typically incisive and helped me immensely in the revision stage. Arnold Edelstein was my mentor in many things, and a colleague whose support was con-stant and bracing. Thanks also to Thomas Rickert for his early and positive reading of the book; his suggestions were helpful in the revi-sion stages. My editor and publisher, David Blakesley, has brought this book to completion with skill, patience, and a personable mastery of the publishing art and craft. I acknowledge finally the blues makers, the blues lovers, men and women of the blues everywhere who speak to one another through the power and beauty of the blues—and to whose danceable conversation I hope this book contributes.
Rhetoric moves the soul with a movement which cannot finally be justified logically.
—Richard Weaver
Introduction: Working (into) the Blues
My interest in the rhetoric of the blues began on a cool September night in Chicago in 1994. I had gone with two friends to a club on the north side and found myself seated at a table about ten feet from the stage. We sat on stools and drank beer from bottles and said noth-ing at all through the thick air of the place that seemed to vibrate like water in a washtub with every heavy, thick pulse of the music. The keyboard player was a young white man who was earnest and looked to his guitarist with a furrowed brow. The sound of his Fender electric bounced off the low ceiling of the club with a high clashing sound that reminded me of stage thunder. The rest of the band was black. The bassist’s eyes would go from the keyboard player to the drummer to the leader and then back up to the low ceiling as if he had put some sheet music there and was checking a figure, but his eyes were more in time to the music than with anything else, and occasionally he would bite his lower lip like a boxer coming off his stool to start one more round. The guitarist and drummer were older men, dressed in dark shirts and jeans that looked well-lived in, wrinkled up under the arms and sag-ging in the knees. The drummer was soft and easy, finding the way the best drummers do to go into and out of a groove and make it sound right, loose, and smart. You never heard him by himself, you only felt him, and the band lived off his beat. The guitarist was a singer as well, who had led off the set with a couple of tunes to warm up the band and club. He played and sang okay, and you knew if he was any better he probably wouldn’t have been here waiting for the real show to start, but on his own somewhere else. He pulled his cowboy hat down low and muscled out some familiar licks, sang hard and steady against the crowd that was still coming in the door. Then he introduced the man walking through a plywood door at the side, and the band crushed my
attempt to say a few words to my friends by finding a riff to fill in the few moments it took Otis Rush to plug in. It is conceivable that the wordrhetoricsprang to mind as, having rotated on my stool, I watched the band working up to this moment. I was a white fan of the black and brown (and white) blues for years, since Muddy Waters played at my college in 1968, but had been for an even longer time an English major who was interested in the broad universe of language and emotion. My love of literature bled comfort-ably into my love of music, where the poetry of both mingles with its primary matter, which is sound. As with many young people, music with its double-barreled strengths of lyric and melody, to say nothing of explicit rhythms emanating from both these barrels, soon outdis-tanced literature as the favored medium of unalloyed pleasure in my life. I could work hard to tease all the music out of F. Scott Fitzgerald, in its full flowering a gorgeous performance to be sure, but there was something downright magical to have wash over you from your speak-ers, in a short five years, the Beatles, Dylan, the Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton, and then Muddy Waters. And the lesson probably began much earlier, with my father’s 78s of Benny Goodman and especially Count Basie. This was a lofty arc indeed, or a serpentine that describes many journeys of my young adulthood, beginning in the exotic, the foreign, the hip and unknown, and working through a sense of dis-covery, a sense of origin or source. This journey was taken in far more authentic terms by the young white men who went south to find the bluesmen in the early 1960s; my journey until the one that began on the north side of Chicago was purely aesthetic. I didn’t care about the lives of the musicians, their ethnic or cultural biases and strengths. For me, enjoying Muddy Waters perform “Blow Wind Blow” in 1968 was to sense the highest degree of transparent speech I had ever heard, transparent as to its meanings, its feelings, the inner music of the human voice, the inflections of phrases and sentences, augmented and whipped up and creamed by a band second to none, led by a man whose voice was all honey and thunder. This transparency had some-thing to do with a reaction to the aesthetically difficult poetry of lit-erature, which invariably led me to interpretive gymnastics while, I hoped, leaving undamaged the essential beauty of the language. Song lyrics tended to be “simpler” or more “vernacular” than pub-lished poetry in their usage; pop music has grown a huge general au-dience based on this principle. The blues was even more of this street